You cannot stop the sea with your hands - Lampedusa: locals’ mobilisations and migrants’ struggles led to the reconfiguration of the hotspot system.


"She can't say she's coming with 45million euros for Lampedusa that are actually for migrants," exclaims Martello, the former mayor of Lampedusa, inscribing Meloni and Van der Layen's catwalk as "yet another initiative that humiliates and demeans us."

On September 16, a group of protesters present on the square since September 13 decided to block a Red Cross truck. The goal was to obstruct the construction of another camp on the island - probably on the former military base - intercepting the arrival of the tents needed for the hypothetical facility. But in the blocked CRI truck there were packages of brioche and pallets full of water addressed to Cala Pisana where, meanwhile, 300 people had been sitting for hours, waiting for a transfer ship that would arrive only two hours later. Regardless of the outcome of the action, the message was clear: for the inhabitants of Lampedusa, the solution to the collapse of the hotspot due to the number of landings is not to create more camps, but to make sure that the island would be less involved in the management of migration.

"With us, the state has crossed the line", says Giacomo Sferlazzo, spokesman for the Pelagie Islands political-cultural movement, in a phone call with the police chief Ricifari. The roadblock dissolves, with an appointment to regroup the next day in the square and to hold a demonstration in Porto Vecchio in the afternoon. The latter immediately takes the form of a sit-in at the commercial pier with the intention of checking the content of the trucks arriving by ferry and blocking, without compromise, the arrival of tent structures.

The entrance to the commercial pier was filled with Lampedusa inhabitants of all ages, carrying the social history of the border regime and its crisis. The biggest issue addressed by the island inhabitants is migration management, with a struggle that dates back to 2011 when, following the fall of Ben Ali, the island had turned into a prison for thousands of Tunisians. Tension with the local population had risen to the point of leading to clashes with the police. In the square there were also fishermen and shipowners moved by the damage suffered during these months, when scheduled ships were delayed due to transfers from the hotspot: "three hours of delay in the scheduled ship means that the catch does not arrive on the counters of the markets that start at night!" declares a local shipowner. "We want to make a living from tourism and fishing," declared vice-mayor Attilio Lucia from the right-wing Lega party.

As a result of the protests, the military truck that came off the regular ferry did not land on Lampedusa. Clearly, the interests of the local population and those of the state no longer match in Lampedusa, and public mobilization is playing a key role in this power play.

Military vehicle disembarked from the ferry and sent back to the peninsula by the protesters.
Military vehicle disembarked from the ferry and sent back to the peninsula by the protesters.

Behind the crowds of local people participating in the demonstration, groups of people who had arrived days ago were sitting on the ground, under Red Cross tents or in the shadows of truck boxes. They had been there for hours with the goal of being the first to board the ship to the peninsula.

In the last few days, people's tenacity and their motivation to get out of the humiliating conditions in which they were forced, totally redefined how the hotspot operated: from identifications to transfers. It was no longer the officers' calls that defined who left and who stayed. Instead those who managed to get on the buses first would be able to leave, at times entailing violent confrontations. That evening, indeed, at the commercial pier there were three groups of people who had organized and arrived there independently. A group of Sudanese, a group of Syrians, and a group of Tunisians were claiming the need to leave, but also denouncing the exclusion and disregard they had suffered over the past few days; "There is no one among the workers who can speak to us in Arabic and explain what is going on, or to justify why we have been staying here for days while other groups are leaving", reported one of the young men. In the days of the hotspot collapse, associations working in the hotspot could not get in and were not operational either outside or inside.

Adding to the confusion, there were the communications from various authorities. On previous evenings, on several occasions, Guardia di Finanza patrol cars would make patrols around the city informing groups of people that they had to go to the port because a transfer ship was on its way. A misleading information, since the ship would have not arrived til the next morning, that rather betrays the intention to "clean the city" of the presence of people who had just arrived from the gaze of tourists, citizens and journalists.

The same happened on the evening of September 15 during the self-organized food distribution by local inhabitants in the parish premises. The priest, in an increasingly insistent manner, communicated to volunteers that they needed to encourage the people to eat and to quickly return to the detention center, arguing that there would be transfers; the real reason was that Priest Carmelo Rizzo received pressure from the prefect to end food distributions in the city as quickly as possible.

Yesterday's catwalk by Giorgia Meloni and Ursula von der Layen turns the hotspot collapse into a stage for reviving policies of restriction and criminalization, and that exclude alternative solutions for Lampedusa. According to their statements, indeed the hotspot facility does not lose its centrality in the first reception system.

In occasion of this institutional visit, there were roughly 2,000 people in the center. This is still a denigrating and extremely problematic situation, as the center designed for 400 people. In the last two days fewer people manage to get out of the center and all the forces participate towards the restoration of the previous status quo.

Although there is not a homogenous voice in Lampedusa, all protests and demonstration at the new harbour, the solidarity networks and the practices of the people on the move all share the same ground: the necessity to react to any imposition from above and taking action in the face of something profoundly unjust.

A hotspot fenced off by bars and from which one cannot leave is a form of detention, in other words a prison.

Freedom of movement for all* against the regime of controls and borders.

Some pictures from the garrison in front of the city hall during the streaming of the press conference of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and European Commission President Ursula on der Leyen.